It’s well over six months into the administration of Yoshihide Suga, but the government has given scarce information about its IR development plans.
In fact, a recent media report suggested that the policy has “stalled.” It hasn’t stalled, but for those who are not paying close attention, it’s perfectly understandable that they might think so.
As we have seen, in recent months there has been movement in the four local communities that are expected to bid for an IR license, but the national government is keeping its lips shut.
The Casino Regulatory Commission was established well over a year ago, but has not produced a sliver of news in all of this time.
And what about the promised national gambling addiction countermeasures? When is the last time the government has said anything about that issue?
It’s not as if the Covid pandemic has somehow relieved the social ills of gambling addiction. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Japanese stuck at home may have turned in greater numbers to online forms of gambling. And, not to miss out, Japanese commercial television stations will begin featuring the advertisements of the pachinko machine industry for the first time in a decade, starting today. Where is the public health response to these developments?
And at the same time as the central government makes no effort to publicly defend and explain its IR development policy, and makes no visible effort to strengthen its problem gambling regime, there is one part of the IR story that will have no problem getting media airtime—the trial of former Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office Tsukasa Akimoto.
The trial, of course, began this week with Akimoto denying all charges of wrongdoing, from his alleged acceptance of bribes from a Chinese firm which had then hoped to build a Japanese IR, to the later accusations by prosecutors that Akimoto himself had tried to bribe some of the witnesses against him to recant their testimony.
While the prosecutors want to put the focus on Akimoto, whom they seem to regard as the ringleader, it shouldn’t be forgotten that about seven other conservative lawmakers played more peripheral roles in the scandal.
Indeed, another thing that boggles the mind is how prosecutors decided NOT to pursue any charges against five lawmakers who took 1 million yen (US$9,100) each in bribes from the Chinese company, including former Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, who used to be one of the most high-profile politicians attending gaming industry events.
Why did prosecutors choose to ignore these particular bribes? According to Japanese media reports, it was because prosecutors concluded that these five politicians had little practical influence over which companies might receive IR licenses. Apparently, Japanese politicians accepting bribes is not in itself regarded as problematic or something that they must answer for.
At any rate, the progress of the Akimoto trial promises to be another extended period in which the public reputation of IR development in Japan will be blackened.
Maybe all of this will one day turn into a learning experience and will ultimately enhance the professionalism of Japan’s governance and regulation of the casino industry, but honestly there are few signs of that happening yet.